Matisyahu via Live Broadcast from 92nd St. Y

[by Felice Sachs]

Matisyahu, the performer described as a Chasidic cultural icon, presents a mix of middle-class Jewish background, current Orthodox, observant practice, humility, angst and confidence. He is a well-known vocal performer who has developed fusion between reggae, hip hop and cantorial singing techniques.

Matisyahu was interviewed by Thane Rosenbaum on March 16 as part of the Live at the 92nd Street Y current cultural series. The live broadcasts from New York are aired to outlying subscribers such as Adath Jeshurun in Louisville.

Matisyahu is an accomplished performer with numerous popular albums and a variety of performances including on Late Night with David Letterman.

One of the musicians he credits for leading him more deeply into Judaism is Bob Marley. For instance the Marley lyrics Matisyahu quoted – “keep your culture… don’t be afraid of the wolfpack… or the vulture” inspired Matisyahu to honor who he is and where he comes from. The reggae style in which he vocalizes has a haunting, rhythmic quality, using a singing voice and a kind of vocal punctuation called beatbox accompaniment. It sounds as if he calls up another instrument to accompany the guitar.

One highlight of the 92nd Street Y interview was watching Matisyahu performing with a choir of fifth grade children from a local public school. The children and Matisyahu were mutually touched by this exchange and interaction. There was enthusiastic hugging and high-fives as the children left the stage.

A question from the audience near the end of the interview, led Matisyahu to treat the audience to his pure voice as he sang a song in Hebrew, without other kinds of vocalization.

This program is sponsored by the Charles and Jean Erskine Speakers Fund.

Adath Jeshurun plans to offer another set of these popular lectures at a later date.

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